Laser Lords
for CD-i

Mr Creosote:
Company: Spinnaker Software / Philips Interactive Media
Year: 1992
Genre: Adventure
Theme: Science Fiction / Myths and Mythology
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 9104
Review by Mr Creosote (2016-09-04)

In the early years of the CD-i's lifetime, it had received almost only very simplistic games; mostly adaptions of board games. Laser Lords marked the release of one of its first “full-sized” game concepts as usually found on computers/game consoles. Of course, the standards of size, length and scope for this new CD-based system had not yet been set. So everything was wide open for experiments and at least length-wise, Laser Lords turned into a massive one…

The plot concerns an evil guy called Sarpedon who attempts to conquer the universe with the power of an infernal machine. The player, a human from the planet earth, travels between seven planets, probably on a mission to prevent this on behalf of a self-appointed “Star Lord”… well, to be honest, most of his necessary actions don't seem to be directly related to this end, but things will fall into place in the end.

Although graphics & interface echo platformers, gameplay actually centres around activities usually associated with the Adventure genre. To be more specific, 80% of the game time is spent in dialogue (the rest being trips from A to B). The protagonist meets many very colourful characters, some of which could have stepped straight out of a Douglas Adams book. The humor is very quirky; often, it is not even actually all that clear whether something is supposed to be taken humorously at all. After playing the first hour or so with permanently raised eyebrows, you may get into the mood, however.

This is unfortunately made fairly hard by the audiovisual presentation. Along with the ugly rendered character faces, the NPCs are all voiced. On a minor point, only the NPCs' side of the conversation is, however, but not the protagonist's – so you hear strange one-sided conversations while what you say is not even spelt out completely, but only hinted at by clickable keywords. The main obstruction to enjoyment here is the nature of the voice acting, however. In an apparent attempt to go full scale “wacky”, all actors opt for silly overdone accents which get really annoying very quickly. This point also applies to the “voice of the game” providing technical meta commentary: “You have received the thing you seek!” is now, after playing through the game for the sake of this review, very high on my list of hated phrases!

This is a pity, because on the positive side of things, Laser Lords does manage to actually get some interesting gameplay out of the old conversation maze approach. The difficulty and complexity lies in interpreting what of all those things you hear is actually of relevance and where to use the information. Information becomes a major asset, even explicitly. The main mechanic supporting this is that the player can choose to “remember” certain pieces, which are then stored in an inventory like an object and which can be used later. Since this is not an automated process, but rather performed manually by the player, it becomes really challenging to keep track in later stages of the game.

Basically, as hinted at earlier already, the basic plot takes the backseat more and more the longer you play. Rather, the game tells you the stories of those planets you visit. Each is based on different earth myths and picking up all those allusions can be fun, too. Admittedly, the overall story it weaves is not particularly concise, so that it tends to drag a little in places.

Laser Lords, played fairly without help, takes weeks or months to finish! Its mechanics are imaginative and lead to fascinating gameplay effects in places, but its world rather discourages experimentation, of which you will need a lot to progress even just slowly. The distances you need to cover to travel from one character to another (completely lost time concerning gameplay) are just too large. And then, if you travelled somewhere to try something which wasn't the right next step, the dialogue will just annoyingly repeat itself.

So it is a game whose relation of menial labour vs. exciting progress is quite unfavourable and whose good ideas are swallowed by too many annoyances. It is an academically highly fascinating game, but not one which many will actually want to play for an extended amount of time.

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